Falling Skies: 202 “Shall We Gather at the River” Review
Reviewed by James Wynne.
The last episode finished with the happy reunion for Tom and the rest of the 2nd Mass being interrupted by a foreboding question of just how trustworthy Tom is – the man posing that particular question was Pope. It was obvious this mystery would carry through to the following episode and, at the same time, occupy the bulk of the story. That definitely turned out to be the case but, as of yet, no clear indication has been given either way.
The episode opens with a nightmarish sequence, in which Tom’s favourite, one-eyed Skitter grabs him by the throat and appears to be scanning him. It literally was a nightmare too, or so we were led to believe. It was apparent from Tom’s subsequent reaction that he believed it was real, and that he was not trustable as a result of this encounter. Particularly notable; was that he didn’t appear to tell anyone about his ‘dream’, perhaps he was aware that Skitter visits during the night might provoke some hostilities from his associates.
I think it’s a bold, but brilliant, decision to introduce some uncertainty around Tom’s character; the man who often came across as a stereotypical hero in series one. It appears his experiences during those three months could have some serious ramifications for both him and the 2nd Mass, and it’s good to see the whole situation has not been neatly wrapped up after just a single episode.
As it turns out, Tom was right not to trust himself. There’s a fairly horrific occurrence while he is trying to convince his son (Hal) of what needs to be done should he show any immediate signs of being under the alien’s influence; his eye starts bleeding, profusely. The scene that follows; the extraction of the parasitic alien device in his left eye; is quite possibly the most disturbing Falling Skies has ever been. It’s great to see but, at the same time, it somewhat conflicts with the more heart-warming approach the show usually takes. I’d rather see some more horror tactics employed though, and the emotionally driven themes, that Spielberg is famous for, abandoned to a certain extent. It’s quite tiring to see so many adrenaline-fueled scenes interrupted by a deeply sentimental discussion or speech, which really does detract from the flow and excitement of an episode.
The crux of the story involves the 2nd Mass’ efforts to repair the only remaining bridge that would allow them to cross the river. While this part of the episode is, for the most part, exciting and well executed, there are some problems. The Mech’s accuracy seems to depend on the importance of the character(s) they are shooting at, and their destructibility relies on much the same circumstances. It’s becoming a big issue, mainly because it’s so sloppily done. The episode seems to make a point of showing the variation in their ability to hit on target, and in no way provides an explanation for it; it just sort of happens. I could just about take them frequently missing Tom (who was stood at a mounted gun) but I’m baffled as to how they missed a bunch of people who were pushing a bus, directly in front of them.
Little problems aside though, this portion of the episode had some interesting occurrences. Pope’s distrust of Tom is escalating at a rapid rate of knots; he has now tried to kill him twice. While the first attempt was botched by Hal and Weaver (Captain of the 2nd Mass) he nearly succeeded in his second. The resistance had laid explosives on the bridge, ready to be detonated once everyone was clear and the aliens were still crossing, and the only person left in the midst was Tom. As he was running to get back safely, Pope snatched the detonator and activated it. We were initially led to believe that Tom was dead as a result, and although his return was somewhat predictable, it wasn’t disappointing. More questionable was the apparent disappointment on Weaver’s face upon Tom’s return. Did he want him to have died in that explosion? There were subtle indications throughout the episode that Weaver might possibly be swayed by Pope’s argument that Tom simply cannot be trusted, but whether he will be convinced of what needs to be done – remains to be seen.
Towards the end of the episode we find out that the escaped alien parasite has located its master; the one-eyed Skitter. This answers the question of whether Tom is in the clear now…he isn’t. It seems that the aliens were fully expecting them to remove the device and were waiting to retrieve it. This hints towards it being an Intel device of some kind, but the question is: Why are they doing this sort of thing? As Anthony pointed out on the bridge; they could just have their ships nuke every inch of the planet and be rid of all the humans. So, why haven’t they? Hopefully, there is a legitimate reason behind all this and not merely another convenience issue.
Ben is undoubtedly one of the best, and most interesting characters, and the problems surrounding him are delved in to even deeper in this episode. It’s revealed that no matter how much he tries to fight it, he is still undergoing the transformation in to a Skitter; albeit much slower than is probably the norm. Hate, as it turns out, is what’s holding back the change. But, as his dad points out; if all he’s got left is hate, then they have succeeded in changing him – inside at least. I have a sneaking suspicion that Ben is going to become a big problem for the group to deal with, and that we may see his change complete, come the end of the series.
Verdict – 8/10 (Very Good)
This series has started infinitely better than its predecessor, while there are some problems that persist, the overall quality of the story, and depth of exploration with the characters has been much improved. The strained relationships within the Mason family continue to be of benefit, and the conflicts beginning to arise within the resistance add some much needed reality to the whole post-apocalyptic scenario. This episode leaned more towards excitement and action than the previous one, and it was all the better for it – this is an alien invasion after all.